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Praying for Others
Praying for Others

Our Sages relate1 that Noach did not pray for the welfare of humanity before the Flood, unlike Moshe who prayed for the welfare of those who made the Golden Calf.

There is a dispute2 among the rabbis with regard to Noach’s lack of prayer: R. Yehuda concedes that Noach failed to pray like Moshe did, but points out that Moshe beseeched G-d in the merit of the Patriarchs. Since Noach could not have done so, he cannot be blamed for his failure to pray on behalf of others.

R. Yitzchak, however, maintains that even though he was unable to invoke the merit of the Patriarchs, Noach should nonetheless have beseeched G-d’s mercy on behalf of the world’s population.

The Torah commands us3 to judge every person favorably, to give every individual the benefit of the doubt. Why then does R. Yitzchak seem to condemn Noach’s behavior, rather than recognizing that Noach lacked people in whose merit he could plead for Divine mercy?

In fact, we can argue that R. Yitzchak agrees that Noach was unable to pray for his generation, because he was lacking individuals on whose merit he could rely. R. Yitzchak is not seeking to indict Noach, however, but rather wanted to be sure that his failure to pray for the welfare of others would not set a precedent for future generations.

R. Yitzchak therefore concludes that it is necessary to portray Noach’s lack of prayer as a flaw — although, in his case, there was nothing else he could have done — for it teaches later generations that all possible means must be used in order to obtain mercy and compassion for one’s fellows.

The statement of R. Yitzchak thus in no way contradicts the command to judge every person favorably, for he too judges Noach favorably, and agrees that he would have had to rely on the merit of others in order to succeed in his prayers. R. Yitzchak merely intended to encourage other individuals always to intercede on behalf of their fellows, although the chances of success may seem remote.

Moreover, if Noach’s failure to pray for the welfare of others had not been discussed, then this itself could have a detrimental effect on Noach, for his behavior, innocent though it was, may have led to the misconduct of others.

There is a lesson here for us all. A person may well do all he can in order to have a beneficial effect on his environment, but fail due to circumstances beyond his control. Such an individual might well think that, since he did all he could, he has no further moral obligation to himself or to others, and can now rest comfortably; the fact that he didn’t succeed is not his fault.

R. Yitzchak therefore teaches us that a person may very well have done as much as he was capable of doing, and is not merely fooling himself into thinking so. Nevertheless, says R. Yitzchak, one cannot make peace with such a situation. He must continue to “beseech mercy for his generation”; failure to do so can well be considered a fault.

Such relentless concern for the welfare of others may well bring G-d to negate those factors that are causing the untoward situation, for He provides every Jew with the opportunity to successfully seek Divine mercy on behalf of his generation.

Especially so, since the Rambam rules4 that the “Torah guarantees that the Jewish people will ultimately repent at the conclusion of their exile, and will immediately be redeemed.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, pp. 19-22

Transforming Justice into Mercy

In commenting on the verse5 “G-d (Elokim) remembered Noach….”, Rashi notes: “This Name (Elokim) is the Name of the Attribute of Justice. It was transformed to Mercy through the prayers of the righteous.”

Why did this remembrance have to come from the Attribute of Justice and be transformed into Mercy? Why could it not have originated from G-d’s Attribute of Mercy?

Later in the Torah portion of Noach, the verse goes on to state,6 “G-d smelled the pleasing fragrance, and said to Himself: ‘Never again will I curse the soil because of man…..’ ”

The Midrash notes7 that the “pleasing fragrance” alludes to the “fragrance of our father Avraham that rose from the fiery furnace… the fragrance of Chananya, Mishoel and Azaryah that rose from the fiery furnace… the fragrance of the Jewish generations that were subject to horrible decrees on account of their religion.”

The Midrash thus informs us that the self-sacrifice of Avraham, Chananya, Mishoel and Azaryah, and of all the Jews who lived in times of harsh decrees, were instrumental in persuading G-d to say: “Never again will I curse the soil because of man.”

Our Sages ask:8 “Why wasn’t the pleasing fragrance of Noach’s offering sufficient? Why was it necessary to include the ‘fragrance’ that rose from the self-sacrifice of all these righteous individuals?”

G-d’s pact with Noach to never destroy the world finds expression in His promise that “As long as the earth lasts, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall never cease.”9

The fact that nature now conducts itself entirely without change indicates that it has been vested with an infinite level of holiness,10 for nature itself, like all things physical,11 does not in and of itself possess the ability to endure without change. It is only because a degree of G-dliness — “I am G-d; I have not changed”12 — is vested within nature that it is immutable.

Since this constancy derives from G-d’s infinite power and is revealed specifically in and through nature, it follows that, in order to elicit such a force, a commensurate level of spiritual service within nature is necessary.

This spiritual service is self-sacrifice, mesirus nefesh , a service that contains two key elements: Mesirus nefesh points to a level of service that is not subject to change — when a person serves G-d with mesirus nefesh , then the strongest forces in the world will not keep him from serving in his accustomed manner.

On the other hand, it is specifically through these very hindrances and obstacles that an individual’s power of mesirus nefesh is revealed. This is why13 the power of mesirus nefesh is more prominent during exile than it was while the Holy Temples existed. For the very concealment and difficulty of exile arouses the power of mesirus nefesh. Accordingly, the very concealment that ostensibly hinders spiritual service actually strengthens it, up to and including the level of mesirus nefesh.

As lofty as was Noach’s spiritual service, it could in no way compare to mesirus nefesh — the strength within every Jew that reveals G-d’s infinite force within the world, and which enables nature to endure without change. It was thus necessary to include the “fragrance” of those who displayed mesirus nefesh.

This also explains why G-d’s “remembrance” had to come from the Attribute of Justice and be transformed to Mercy, rather than from the Attribute of Mercy itself.

In order for material nature itself to reveal G-dliness, it is necessary that the Divine Name Elokim,14 which enables nature to exist, be transformed into the Attribute of Mercy, by which G-dliness is revealed.15

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, pp. 30-36

1. Zohar I, 67b ff.; ibid., 254b.
2. Zohar ibid., 68a.
3. Avos 1:6.
4. Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5.
5. Bereishis 8:1.
6. Ibid., verse 21.
7. Bereishis Rabbah 34:9.
8. See Vayorach 5654, 5708.
9. Bereishis 8:22.
10. See Akeidah beginning of Torah portion Bo; HaChodesh 5666. See also Likkutei Sichos XVII , p. 152ff.
11. See Nosato Li’reiacha 5711 (p. 291). See also Responsa of Chacham Tzvi , Section 18; Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 22:c.
12. Malachi 3:6.
13. See Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim, Vol. III, p. 121ff.; Sefer HaMaamarim Yiddish, p. 5ff.; Sefer HaMa’amarim 5709 p. 118ff.
14. Elokim is numerically equivalent to hatevah — “that which is natural” (Pardes, Sha’ar 12:2). See also Sheloh 89a; Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah beginning of ch. 6.
15. See Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah beginning of ch. 5.


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